How to Support Someone With Cancer During the Holidays


Studies show cancer survivors with strong emotional support tend to better adjust to the changes cancer brings to their lives and often report a better quality of life. Renown Licensed Clinical Social Worker Denise Abbey explains how to show your support during the holiday season.

By Denise Abbey, LCSW, Renown Medical Group – Cancer

The holidays are traditionally a time for gathering with family and friends, gift giving and celebrating rituals. But for those battling cancer, the season may not feel so merry and bright. And mustering a happy holiday spirit or joining the party can be challenging when dealing with serious health issues.

More and more people are living beyond cancer, which is great news. The number of survivors, according to the National Cancer Institute, reached nearly 14.5 million in 2014 and by 2024 is expected to rise to approximately 19 million. But for those still undergoing treatment and contending with cancer daily, the holidays can be extremely difficult. It’s easy to feel out of sync with the festive world around you.

Supporting a Loved One With Cancer

If you have a loved one suffering from cancer, being present and consistent in their lives can go a long way toward lessening their physical and emotional burden this season. But that’s just the beginning. Here’s a few tangible ways to help support a loved one with cancer through the holiday season.

Get specific. It’s not always easy to ask for help when you’re ill, so be proactive and do the asking. Find out specific ways you can be supportive. It shows that you genuinely care and want to help. And your loved one will feel more comfortable opening up and sharing what they need from you and others as a result.

Make a list. Encourage your loved one to create a list of things they want to do and accomplish during the holidays. Tell them to keep it simple and doable. Once complete, help them prioritize the most important things and eliminate things that aren’t necessary so they can conserve their energy and avoid getting overwhelmed.

Cancer Support Services

Renown Institute for Cancer assists you and your family with the emotional aspects that are an undeniable part of this disease. From education and financial assistance to rehabilitation and home care, our range of comprehensive services offers everything you need to guide you from worry to recovery.

  • Find a Cancer Doctor
  • Contact a Nurse Navigator
  • My Chart
  • Support Group Calendar

    Click Here To Get Started


Stay in touch. Remind your loved one that they’re not alone and that you’re there for them, but be sure to walk the walk. Show them with regular phone calls and visits. If they want to get out of the house, a night at the movies, a coffee date or a relaxing drive may be in order.

Listen and validate. Acknowledge and validate your loved one’s feelings. Cancer can make it difficult to maintain an upbeat, cheerful mood during the holidays. Reassure them without judgment that they are allowed to have all of their feelings — even the negative ones—and you will still love and support them.

Change the subject. It’s good for your loved one to have an outlet to talk about their cancer, but don’t be afraid to talk about other things. Dealing with cancer can be all-consuming. Changing the subject occasionally can serve as a much-needed distraction.

Help carry the load. Dealing with cancer and all the doctor’s appointments and treatments is emotionally and physically exhausting. Offer to run errands or help with tasks around the house — simple things like making a trip to the store to buy Christmas cards and stamps, for example, can lighten the load.

Soothe the senses. Treat your loved one with simple gifts and comforts that relax the mind and body and support a healing environment — a fragrant candle, hot chocolate or tea in a festive mug, soft cozy socks, soothing music or a daily calendar with positive affirmations.

You can also support your loved ones by learning more about cancer. Visit to read about cancer screenings, treatments and stories of survivorship.